Irina asked me to post a lesson on possessive nouns. This lesson covers that and a little more. This information is a condensed and reorganized version of information found at this website.
Articles, quantifiers, and determiners are certain types of words that precede (come before) and modify (describe) nouns. Thus, they all function as adjectives. Remember that adjectives can only modify nouns. Some nouns MUST be preceded by one of these types of words. For example, I cannot say “Dog is tired.” I must say “the dog” or “that dog” or “my dog” or “John’s dog” to add specificity. Therefore, I sometimes refer to articles, quantifiers, and determiners collectively as “specifiers” or “specifying words”.
Articles, quantifiers, and determiners may answer any of the following questions:
- Are we referring to a specific thing or a general thing?
- Whose thing is it?
- How many or how much of a thing are we talking about?
Some examples of articles, quantifiers, and determiners are as follows:
the teacher, a college, a bit of honey, that person, those people, whatever purpose,
either way, your choice
You should all be familiar with the three articles in English: a, an, the. You should know that ‘a’ and ‘an’ are general (non-specific) and ‘the’ is specific.
Quantifiers are words that tell us how many or how much.
The following quantifiers will work with count nouns:
a few trees
a couple of trees
none of the trees
The following quantifiers will work with non-count nouns:
not much dancing
a little dancing
a bit of dancing
a good deal of dancing
a great deal of dancing
The following quantifiers will work with both count and non-count nouns:
all of the trees/dancing
most of the trees/dancing
a lot of trees/dancing
lots of trees/dancing
plenty of trees/dancing
a lack of trees/dancing
In formal academic writing, it is usually better to use many and much rather than phrases such as a lot of, lots of and plenty of.
Determiners are said to “mark” nouns. A determiner will always be followed by a noun. There are several categories of determiners:
- The articles (a, an, the)
- Possessive nouns (Joe’s, the priest’s, my mother’s)
- Possessive pronouns (his, your, their, whose, etc.)
- Numbers (one, two, etc.)
- Indefinite pronouns (few, more, each, every, either, all, both, some, any, etc.)
- Demonstrative pronouns (this, that, these, those, such).
One distinction (unique characteristic) to be aware of is that the second category, possessive nouns, differs from the other determiners in that possessive nouns are often preceded by other determiners. For example:
- my mother’s rug (compared to my rug)
- the priest’s collar (compared to a priest’s collar)
- a dog’s life (compared to the dog’s life).
In the examples above, the first determiner (my, the, a) actually modifies the second determiner (mother’s, priest’s, dog’s), not the final noun (rug, collar, life).
You may say: “Wait a minute. How can an adjective modify another adjective? We just said that an adjective can only modify a noun.”
The answer is: A possessive noun (neighbor’s) is a noun acting as an adjective. Thus, its noun “heritage” allows the preceding adjective to modify it instead of the final noun. Compare the difference in meaning in the following example:
I have Dog A, my neighbor has Dog B, and my neighbor’s neighbor has Dog C.
- My dog is Dog A.
- My neighbor’s dog is Dog B.
- A dog is barking. (could be Dog A, B, or C)
- My neighbor’s dog is barking. (Dog B)
- A neighbor’s dog is barking. (could be Dog B or Dog C)
- My neighbor’s neighbor’s dog is barking. (Dog C)